“Not much longer now men!” My mighty prince Beowulf cried. We had been sailing for days and we were all wary of our journey. We starved for dry land. We were desperate for a view of anything but the waves and each other. At least most of us; my prince seemed not to be affected by the lengthy journey. He seemed calm; he had spent most the trip on his own and we dared not disturb him. Perhaps he was less brave than we thought. Perhaps the mighty Beowulf was afraid. Or perhaps not. He would not give us any insight into his thoughts at all.
We, his thanes, had loyally followed him, many for years, through many battles and dangers and never tried to earn glory or fame for ourselves. Many think us brave because of this, but we are not. I find that most of the time we do nothing but stand by and watch. We are cowards at heart, or maybe just I am.
“Prepare yourselves men. We will face a greater danger than we have before. We will look into the face of evil.” Beowulf seemed lost in his thoughts. Though it was he who spoke, the gravity of the situation which he had so calmly spoken of mere moments before was lost on him entirely. It was as though he had no fear- the hero with no fear.
“It’ll be him who looks into the face of evil. We’ll be lucky to see the outline of it.” Diedrick, one of my fellow thanes murmured under his breathe. He was always bitter that he was not allowed to fight. He seemed to always be ready for a fight. Or maybe he was simply jealous of Beowulf’s victorious record. I was perfectly content to watch my prince, safe viewing from a distance, yet still being part of the adventure.
“Move over boy” Willem grunted as he pushed past me. Willem was the strongest, most fearless of the thanes. He frequently mocked me because of my age. I was the youngest of thanes, being but ten years old. My father had died when I was only one and my mother had raised me herself. She sent me to follow our prince because she
thought it would teach me to be a better man. After all the work she put into my up-bringing, I was to be a student of these men to learn what she could not teach me.
I was frequently alone on the ship. Most men felt that if they spent time with me, they would be forced to watch me. I didn’t mind. Our voyages took days, weeks, even months sometimes. There was no place I could go to play. Instead, I took to spending the days lying on my bed, imagining things. Adventures, villains and victors, and what I would do if only I were prince. The truth was that I was far too cowardly to carry out what I imagined even if I were prince.
“Have you heard what they say about this monster?” Willem asked Diedreck.
“Some. None of it sounds like anything I’ve ever heard. He sneaks into the tower of Herot at night while their King and his men sleep and he slaughters them.”
“That is what I have heard as well. They say he shows no mercy. He takes delight in the killing some say. He eats his victims. Doomed by God, they say is the embodiment of evil.” I shivered and Willem looked at me. Then he continued, knowing he was scaring me.
“Chances are he will kill us in our sleep if our master does not battle him immediately,” Then he continued, looking at me, grinning malevolently. “He is bound to start with the smallest. Save his strength for those who will put up a fight. An easy meal first.” I gulped.
“That’s enough Willem” Varick said coming to my rescue. Varick was the sole thane who showed me pity. Varick was kind and would defend me if Willem was picking on me. Varick was the favorite of Beowulf. He spent most of his time counseling the prince, and the rest protecting me.
“I’m just speaking with Diedreck, Varick, I don’t know what you mean.” Willem knew that this was a weak and useless excuse, but he used it anyway. Willem always felt the need to fight back when confronted.
“Why you must be so cruel is something I will never know” Varick said.
Willem opened his mouth, ready to respond, but we never got to hear what it was he had to say. “Land! Land! Willem! Diedrick! Varick! Wiglaf! Land! Come here! Land!”
We had been below deck and we all scrambled to the deck. When we looked out, we saw the land that had been promised to us. All cheered and rushed back below deck to prepare ourselves for our arrival. In a mad rush, all of the men and I changed into clothing we had set aside for when we finally landed and grabbed our weapons. Once back on deck, we found Beowulf waiting for us. Everyone piled into smaller row boats and headed to shore.
When we arrived at the shore we were greeted by a Danish Guard. “Stop!” he screamed frantically, with some fear protruding in his voice “Who goes there?”
“Beowulf, prince of the Geats and his loyal thanes.” Beowulf responded. “Son of Edgetho.”
“Indeed?” The guard responded, then smiled. “I apologize for my tone. It has been so long since Danes have felt safe, even on their own land. You are welcome.”
“Please, we would like to see your king, and Herot.”
“Oh, yes. Follow me.”
And so, we all followed the guard. I remember nothing of the walk, except that I could think of nothing but seeing Herot and its splendor. I had heard tale of it. It was said to be the tallest building in existence to show the Danes closeness to God. Made of gold to show their goodness. It was but a fantasy to be privileged enough to see it on Danish soil.
When I next looked up, I was not prepared for the sight that I met. The tower, standing tall and firm and just beautiful as I had heard. The sky was full of clouds and everything looked gloomy, yet the building seemed to gleam.
We were led into it. Silence and fear filled the air. The inside was as magnificent as the outside. High ceilings and walls covered with evidence of the Danes many victories in battle. Memorials for those dead in battle and trophies and plaques everywhere for those truly heroic warriors. There were large cups everywhere for the soldiers to enjoy mead as a reward for their good-doing. Despite all of this splendor, I felt uncomfortable in the room. Everyone seemed nervous and constantly on edge. It might have something to do with the long gashes running from almost the top of the door to the floor. Unnerved, I continued into the hall, walking more carefully next to Varick.
A soldier came forth and Beowulf addressed him. “I request the audience of your king.” The soldier looked at the guard who nodded and then he addressed Beowulf. “Right this way, sir” then he led him away.
We did not follow him. Instead, we went with the guard who took us to a table where we sat and were each given mead while we waited.
“My king is a good one. You will be well received.”
It felt an eternity that we sat at that table, waiting for Beowulf’s return. At last, we heard a great cheer and looked up to see Beowulf and an old man.
“That is my king. Hrothgar.” The guard told me.
The Danish king was an old man. His face looked soft and kindly and the gray hairs on his head seemed to be well-earned, each telling a story of his desire to be a good king. The lines on face showed how happy of a person he was. Though the slight fear in his eyes, the minor nervousness in his manner showed that he had not been so happy as present in too long.
“Beowulf, prince of Geatland has come to slay our enemy.” Hrothgar announced. “Grendel will be no more!” This statement was followed by a great cheered echoing through the hall. Mead seemed to appear from nowhere and not a soul in the hall was not smiling. Music began playing and all were merry.
Still, as the music began and those around me started dancing, I thought I heard a deep growl coming from somewhere. Just your imagination I told myself, but I knew that was a lie.
After the celebration, we were all exhausted. Having drunk and danced and enjoyed ourselves, we fell asleep quickly and slept soundly. No man but me gave any thought to Grendel. However, I dreamt of him slipping into the hall, slaughtering me.
I awoke suddenly during the night to the sound of shrill shrieks. I sat up and felt blood on my hand, when looking down, I discovered a pool of blood; drawing my hand away immediately, I looked around to see what was going on. I saw my prince, Beowulf, struggling with all his might against a horrific beast the likes of which I had never seen before. It looked like a man and wolf combined. Black fur stuck up in patches everywhere. Fierce, long fangs dripping with blood hung from his mouth like icicles from a building on the coldest day of winter. His eyes were black like coal, yet they gleamed. No, it was not that his eyes shone. He was weeping. His face looked like a man’s covered with thick fur.
Beowulf was bending back the monster’s claws as forcefully as he could muster. The monster let out a shrill shriek that made me shiver as if icy wind was blowing against me.
“Come men, let us help our prince!” Diedrick cried. My fellow thanes jumped out of their beds, grabbing their weapons and raising them high, preparing to strike the beast down. I went to do the same, but Varick grabbed my arm.
“No. You are too young. Go with the Danes.” He instructed. I saw that the Danes were heading for the stairs to hide. I went to follow them, unwillingly, but got as far as the stairway and could not help but turn back to see the struggle.
Beowulf was still bending back Grendel’s claws, but now with the Geats surrounding them, trying to help by using their swords again the villain, but their swords did nothing. They could not seem to harm the fiend no matter how much they tried. They finally realized what I had concluded. This battle was meant to be between Beowulf and Grendel. We could do nothing.
Finally, Grendel seemed to have a jolt of strength. He pushed Beowulf away and escaped, badly injured, and leaving pools of blood behind him, but not before Beowulf could severely injure him. When Grendel had pulled away, Beowulf had lost grip on only one arm. The other arm had been pulled off by Beowulf. It now hung from the high ceiling, having been thrust there by the force with which Beowulf had removed it.
The sight was far from pleasant. Both had splattered the walls and floor and there had been an atrocious crack as the arm separated from the body and the monster’s flesh ripped. I felt sick as I looked at that arm, hanging above me. It was like a bloody ghost, being a sight which would haunt mw forever.
“He’s dead!” I heard shouted behind me. I turned around to see that I was not the only one who had been watching. Behind me was the guard who had led us here. There came a great cheer from above where the other Danes had gone and they all rushed downstairs to see.
Hrothgar led the mob to the sight and I joined the other Geats. We were greeted by thousands of thankful faces. When they saw no body, Beowulf explained that Grendel had gotten away, but the proof that Grendel was done for was hanging above us. No one could argue that Grendel would live to see morning. Still, the guard went to find the body and a great celebration began.
All of the Geats had gathered together in a huddle and so I joined them to learn what could be so troubling on a night of such great victory.
“It is unfortunate that it could not have been prevented. He was the first the monster could get his evil grasp on.” Varick was saying. What were they talking about? I looked at the group. I was standing in a huddle that was composed of thirteen men. I had been the thirteenth addition. But Beowulf had brought fourteenth with him on his journey. One was missing?
“Where is Zoltin?” I asked suddenly realizing who was missing. They all looked at me and it was Willem who answered, speaking to me civilly for the first time. “He was a victim to the monster.”
I was dumbfounded. Had Beowulf not been successful? Had he not conquered the vile creature who had wreaked havoc for too long? Yes. I was sure of it. Beowulf had been the victor. How then, could a Geat have been slaughtered? How could one of our own be gone?
“We should pray for him” Karsten, a thane, suggested. Diedrick nodded in agreement and we all followed his lead and bowed our heads in silent prayer. After our prayer, we all dispersed to enjoy our victory as much as we could having lost one of our own. Karsten stayed near me though.
“Did you know that they reverted to Paganism for a time?” Karsten asked me.
“Who?” I asked.
“The Danes. That’s why it took a Geat to defeat Grendel. We are favored by God, but they must regain his favor. They were not loyal.” Karsten was a strong believer in Christianity. He always led anything religious we did.
“Perhaps our victory is a sign that God is forgiving them.” I suggested.
“Perhaps.” Karsten said with a smile.
That night I had the best sleep of my life. I slipped into a deep sleep easily and stayed in it until I woke the next morning. We had been treated to soft beds, separated from the many Danes. We had enjoyed the benefits of being heroes.
Despite this, I was woken before I was ready. Shaken awake by Varick I was only half-awake when I stumbled out of bed.
“The king has called for Beowulf and he insists we accompany him.” Varick explained. I nodded and followed him. When we joined the others I saw that a messenger had been sent. The messenger looked panicked and frantic.
“We must hurry. My king must speak with you. It’s urgent. We mustn’t keep him waiting.” The messenger said with urgency in his voice.
“Take us to him.” Beowulf commanded, and we were led to Hrothgar’s chambers.
When we entered the hall, Hrothgar’s back was to us. Beowulf saw Hrothgar, he bowed, and we did the same. “Is all peaceful?” Beowulf asked.
When Hrothgar turned to face Beowulf, we saw that he was weeping. He had clearly been greatly affected by something, though we did not know what. His tears shocked me and I noticed that his body trembled as he sobbed.
“Peaceful! There is no peace in this world!” W could barely understand Hrothgar through his bawling. “Esher had been slaughtered! Death came to him last night by way of the vile and despicable creature who bore Grendel. She had a nasty wrath. None could have stopped her. I asked Beowulf, for your help once more. Find her horrible home and slaughter as you did her son. Your success will be rewarded accordingly!” Hrothgar answered. Through this statement, he had begun to be more and more angry, so that by the end, he was no longer crying. His tears had been replaced by shouts full of fury and frustration.
“Where is her home may I ask?” Beowulf questioned.
“She lives at the bottom of the lake. No man has dared go there before. Will you?”
“I will.” Beowulf responded, sounding confident.
“I thank you.” Hrothgar said.
“I will go now, but there is one matter I wish to discuss with you first.” Beowulf said.
“And what matter would that be?” Hrothgar asked.
“My men.” Beowulf said. We all looked at him, shocked. When focused on battle Beowulf gave little thought to us. “If her dwelling is below the lake, then not all of us will be able to swim to it. I leave them here with you. If am to die today, then I ask you to please be their new ruler. Take them on as your men. And send the treasure you graciously gave me back to my king so he may see it.”
“I will do this.” Hrothgar answered. A man I recognized as Unferth, a Danish soldier who had been hostile toward Beowulf at the banquet to welcome us stepped forth. He held a beautiful, large, gleaming sword.
“Take my sword. You humbled me when you saved my people from Grendel. Now, take my sword and save us again. Let it be this sword which cuts into the flesh of that evil and finishes her cruel and wicked existence.”
“I will. Thank you for this.”
Then, without hesitation, Beowulf walked out of the room and out of Herot and to the lake, Danes and Geats alike following him. He reached the lake and without a moment’s hesitation, he dove into the murky water, leaving us there to wonder whether we would ever see him again.
At first, everyone was very quiet. We sat by the water, staring into it, breathe held. We waited for a great time, but still Beowulf did not return. Finally Danes began to leave. Hrothgar stood and said “I am sorry. Will you come?”
“No, but thank you. We will wait for our leader’s return.” Batu, a thane replied.
“I must leave you. You may join us at the hall when you are ready.” Hrothgar said.
And so, we waited. I had nothing to do, and needed something to occupy my mind. “Please, sing one of tales of our ancestors that you know so well for me, Schuyler.” Schuyler was a fellow thane who was well-learned. He was schooled in anything you could think of.
“Yes, amuse the little one, won’t you Schuyler?” Willem asked mockingly.
“Perhaps later, Wiglaf.” Schuyler answered.
“Well, isn’t this just like him?” Willem asked. “Goes off to win glory, fame, and have fun and he leaves us hear. Never gives us a chance to earn fame ourselves does he? Actually, this is an improvement. At least he’s not making us watch as he does what he won’t let us do.”
“That’s enough Willem.” Varick snapped. “He’s off risking his life to help these people.”
“Yes, and we could do it just as well as he will.” Willem responded.
“Try telling that to the families of the victims.” Bernt said. Bernt was a small thane. He didn’t have the build that most of the men did. He was half of Willem’s size and knew that Willem wouldn’t mind challenging him. “Just tell them we’re sending someone to conquer her who’s never fought a monster in his life. You know you haven’t.” This was true. Willem had always talked about wanting to fight, but had never actually fought. Willem didn’t respond to this.
I was nervous about the battle and this talk of death was not helping. It must have been obvious that I was anxious because one of the thanes, Jaxith, came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “He’ll be fine.” He said to me.
Then, as if having waited for his cue, he finally heard it, Beowulf emerged from the water.
“He lives! He lives!” Claus, a thane, shouted triumphantly. Indeed, there stood our prince, having survived battle, before us unharmed and holding like a trophy the head of Grendel and a golden hilt of a sword.
“I see my thanes are loyal” Beowulf said with a wide smile. It may not have always been evident or returned, but in that moment I saw just how much we meant to him and I thought back to his request of Hrothgar. “To Herot.”And we all went towards Herot, Beowulf in the lead. When we reached Herot, Beowulf strode into the building and went directly into the room where the Danes were eating and there, he spoke. “Hrothgar, I have avenged your people yet again. Mother has joined son in the deepest pit in hell. Never again will they victimize your people.” Beowulf then handed Hrothgar the sword hilt.
“A trophy for your collection” Beowulf said gesturing to the walls and the other trophies that covered them.
“It seems we must thank you once again Beowulf!” Hrothgar said. “Indeed, we are grateful to you!” And to commemorate Beowulf’s great triumph, there was another banquet held in his honor.
The next day we set off for home. We would spend a month on the ship together. We prepared ourselves to say goodbye to the Danes and land. I felt sad leaving Herot. I would miss its beauty and the feeling that when you were in it, you were invincible, favored strongly by God, not to be harmed again. We were their champions. I had done nothing to earn this, except be loyal to Beowulf, yet the Danish people were so thankful that they made me feel as if I had slaughtered Grendel and his mother myself.
As we boarded our ship I saw Beowulf bidding goodbye to Hrothgar. It was a sorry sight. Beowulf would most likely not return to Danish soil, but if did, it would most assuredly be after Hrothgar’s time. I had not noticed how old Hrothgar really looked until now.
Once on board, I looked out onto land and saw that I was not the only one sorry to leave.
“Enjoy this view now while you can. You will most likely never see it again.” A thane, Harmon, said. He did not say it mockingly, but rather with a melancholy tone, for he realized that he would most likely not see it again either.
It was bitter-sweet watching the shore grow smaller and smaller as we sailed away. I was glad to know that I would soon see my mother, but I would miss the hospitality of the Danes, their kindly king, the warm beds and food. Yet our adventure was spent. It was time to return to reality.
Our journey home was long and filled with trials. The waters were rough and at times they threatened to turn us over and grasp our lives away from us. Still, our ship sailed true and we found that fate was on our side. We were homeward bound.
When we finally reached the shore, we were glad to be rid of our cage of wood. When we were at sea, we could not be free. Could not find a place to make our own. When all you desired was a quiet moment to think, you would find that there was no such place to be found.
We strode off of the ship and I thanked God that I could now enjoy the benefits of dry land again. Our arrival on our shore was similar to that of our arrival on Danish land. A guard greeted us, but this time we were not confronted with questions. Instead, we were welcomed home and we swiftly took off for the castle.
“I must speak to Higlac when we see him. I will tell him of our adventures and our victories.” Beowulf informed us. Indeed, as soon as we arrived at the dwelling of the king, Beowulf was whisked away to his side. We were provided with rich food and mead and told to relax. We began eating; shoveling the food into our mouths as though we had not eaten in an eternity, which it felt like, having not eaten decent food since we parted with Danish land.
“Beowulf, prince of the Geats, has defeated two great evils for the Danes. They have provided him with great treasure to show their gratification and he is now welcomed home as a hero.” Higlac announced to the room, standing at the long wooden table at which we were seated. There was applause from the many others sitting around the table and I could not help but join them. Willem shot me a nasty look, but I did not mind. Beowulf was the hero, not he. Why should we not acknowledge his fame and bravery?
Then, Beowulf accounted our journey to the king and his people. We paid little attention, being already aware of the events that had shaped our adventure. We were more occupied with the never ending supply of food which was served to us. We would clear and plate and no sooner could we put our fork down then another plate, piled high with a mountain of food would be brought to us.
After we had eaten our fill, I was ready to return to my home, to see my mother. “Varick, must I stay now?” I inquired.
Varick seemed to consider this for a moment, then replied “You may go home if you wish. We will call for you there if you are needed.”
I took off immediately. I was home in what seemed like an instant. I rushed into our little cottage, for we were not wealthy people and being thus, could not afford a large home. My mother was sitting in a chair asleep by the fire. I smiled, feeling safe looking at her. Her familiar black hair wound tightly atop her head made me smile. I would let her sleep and surprise her in the morning when she woke.
I went into my room and crawled into my bed and slept a deep, well-deserved slumber.
“I was shocked when I was told what happened” Jedreck, one of my fellow thanes told me as I walked alongside him and another thane, Bazyli.
“What did happen?” I questioned, having a difficult time taking in what they had told me. It was many years after our journey to the Dane’s home. Hrothgar had died, leaving his kingdom to his son and Beowulf had become king of Geatland. We had continued to be his loyal thanes, coming whenever he beckoned, but our duties were different. We no longer followed Beowulf into battles. He did not fight any longer. However, Willem did, apparently.
“No one is fully sure for the culprit will not come forth. You know they will not. The price for taking a thane’s life is severe. They will be killed if they confess.” Jedreck answered.
“All we know is that he was stabbed to death. Willem was always a warrior.” Bazyli added. This was true. Willem had always been up for a fight. Even in his old age. It was surprising that he had lived long enough to meet old age. It seemed a shame that when the fight finally came, his words were false and his battle-readiness was nothing but a ruse.
“He will be cremated?” I asked.
“Yes. Our king insisted upon us honoring him now.” Bazyli explained. They had pulled me away from my dinner and I had been cross at first, but when they explained the serious matter to which we were attending, I understood.
We arrived at the sea side, greeted by the mournful faces of our fellow thanes and our king. There, I saw the body of Willem. He looked peaceful for the first time since I had known him. His body was atop a pile of branches and twigs formed like a bed and two coins covered his eyes.
“Today, we must say good bye to a loyal thane and friend. Willem will always be remembered.” Varick said and Beowulf lit the twigs on fire. As we watched his body burn I thought about how soon it would be my body that burnt. Death comes too easily I thought.
“Wiglaf! Wiglaf come out here! Our king has called us!” I heard Varick’s voice coming from outside of the cottage. It was many years since Willem’s death. He had since been replaced by Jung. Jung was yet a boy, not much older than I had been when we had faced Grendel and his mother. I was now a fully grown man and Beowulf was an elder. Aged at least 70, likely more, yet he continued to be a great king.
“Wiglaf, must you go? I don’t like the urgency in his voice.” My mother said with concern. She was an old woman. Her hair was long and tightly tied against her head. Her face gnarled from the years of her worries and work.
“Don’t worry. You know as well as I that we will not do anything dangerous. I will be back soon.” I reassured her. I kissed her on the forehead and swiftly left the cottage. Varick was older too. His face was covered in lines and his hair was white in many places.
“Have you any idea why we have been called?” I asked him.
“None. But we must respond and quickly.” He said. We hurried to Beowulf’s great fortress and found that it was destroyed. Burned. We joined our peers in the huddle outside of the building.
“Friends,” Beowulf began. “A new threat has come to our shores. He has destroyed my castle and killed a youth. I will not tolerate this kind of terror thriving in my land. We will go to the hall which the dragon holds as his home and we will fight him. He has a wonderful treasure which we will claim as the property of the Geats. I intend to fight this beast and triumph for the sake of my followers. Prepare yourselves.”
There was silence, as we were all shocked. There was no way that Beowulf could survive this battle, even if he won. He was elderly and weak. He looked as though he was about to fall over standing before us. Yet, he had the fire and passion in his eyes that he had had when he was a youth and we knew there would be no arguing with him. With a fire such as that, there had never been any arguing with him. Varick helped him into armor as we all did the same for ourselves. My fellow thanes were displeased with our lord’s decision, which I could tell from the grumblings as we dressed.
“…going to get killed…”
“Why are we involved?”
“Madness! This is madness!”
“If he thinks I’m going to die for treasure…”
“…never make it out alive…”
Yet we followed him to the mouth of the beast’s cave and Beowulf entered first, bravely. There we were, entering our last battle, the same as those who had entered the battle with Grendel, Willem’s spot filled by Jung, and Zoltin’s remaining empty. The dragon’s lare reminded me of the great hall in Herot. It was filled with treasure and high-arching cathedral walls.
Beowulf let out an angry shriek taking us by surprise. Was this to draw out the dragon or simply some way to get his own morale up? We never had a chance to ask him.
As unexpectedly as Grendel’s attacks had been, fire was spat at us. We looked up and saw the dragon swooping toward us with evil firey-red eyes that matched his breathe in heat. He had gigantic fangs and had scales of a shining gold color that reminded me of the shining gates of Herot. His tail alone was about 8 feet long. All of the thanes, including me leapt out of the dragon’s way. This was a fight I doubted that even Willem would have been foolish enough to feign interest in.
We watched as the dragon’s spitting fire melted Beowulf’s armor, his sole protection. Beowulf let out a scream of pain, yet he fought on, stabbing at the beast and blood began spilling out, but not enough to finish him, only anger him more. I watched, my leader crumbling and it occurred to me that something must be done. I looked into the faces of my fellow thanes and saw terror. “Quick! We must help him!” I shouted, raising my sword, but no one joined me.
“We are too old Wiglaf. We must leave while we can!” Diedrick shouted and ran toward the exit, all of the others following him, even Varick, except for Jung. He reached for his sword, ready to fight. I looked at him and remembered how Varick had protected me years ago when I had tried to aid the battle against Grendel. He was too young.
“No. Jung, go with the others.” I commanded.
“I want to fight. I want to help.” He insisted, trying his best to mask the fear in his eyes as he caught sight of the dragon’s fire.
“No. You must go.” Still he did not budge. “Go!” I shouted, and finally he turned away. Then, I turned from one battle, to the next.
The dragon aimed his fire at Beowulf once more, but I pulled him away, the fire coming close enough to both of us to feel the searing heat. Then I took my sword and began stabbing the beast wherever I could reach. I stabbed blindly. Slightly unaware of where I hit, just aware that every stab, every shrill scream of pain the dragon let out, was one closer to his death. At last, he was too injured. He flew past us, out of the place he had once held as his own and into the fresh air. I knew he was too injured to live, like Grendel had been. It must have been our destinies, Beowulf and I, to aid monsters in their journey toward death, though a strange path as only God has the power to kill.
“Wiglaf,” Beowulf breathed, barely able to speak. “Thank you. Please, bring me a small prize.” He pleaded. I knew what he meant. I sprinted into the darkness that was the cave, allowing myself to be swallowed by the darkness that had once been the Dragon’s. I grabbed a golden cup, which I brought back to him. When I returned, I handed the cup to him, and he took it, breathing quickly and shallowly.
“Make this place a memorial for me. Let those who see it remember me.” He pleaded.
“I will.” I promised.
“Had I had sons I would leave my kingdom to them, but I have none. It is yours, most loyal and strong of thanes. When all others abandoned me, you stayed, and therefore, you are the most deserving.”
“I will take it. Thank you.” I said, shocked, but knowing better than to argue. And with that, Beowulf breathed his last breathe.
I stayed, kneeling next to his lifeless body, then stood. I wanted to cry or scream or do something, but I knew nothing would or could fix this. My mind raced. How could he be dead? He who had ruled for so long, so well. He who had gone against monster after monster yet never been injured. How could he be dead? And me, a king! The most cowardly of thanes. How could I rule? Still trying desperately to wrap my mind around the situation, I exited the hall.
“Wiglaf, what happened?” Varick asked me frantically. They had stayed outside of the entrance, waiting for the battle to end. “We saw the dragon escape. He tried to fly away, but he was injured. He dropped dead.” Varick pointed to the dragon’s lifeless body which lay by the sea.
“Beowulf is dead.” I said quietly. The men’s faces seemed to melt like Beowulf’s armor had. They made noises of sympathy and mourning, but I would not allow this. “He is dead and it is your fault! You would not help him when he needed you most! He who spent his entire life helping others! He who kept us safe for so long! I remember a time when you all ached for a fight, but when you had the chance to have one, you walked away. He wasn’t suppressing us, he was protecting us! Yet you let him die! You would all be better dead for the shame you have brought the Geats. I did not slay the dragon. That was Beowulf’s doing. I harmed it once or twice, but that alone could never have been enough to bring down the beast.” I was burning with anger at them and disgrace that I had once looked up to them as brave and loyal men.
“Jung, go and get the good people of our land and bring them here. They must be informed of what has happened.”
“Yes, sir” Jung responded and he rode off to retrieve the Geats.
While we waited for the others, the thanes did not address me. Perhaps they sensed how strong my anger was. Perhaps they feared me. Perhaps they finally respected me. I could not tell.
As we waited, I thought out what I would tell everyone once they arrived and I planned out how we would care for Beowulf’s body. I knew what I said must be powerful and authoritative, but how could I be successful in this when I was still so unsure of myself?
At last, they arrived, led by Jung, who brought them right up to me.
“Good people,” I began “Today, our noble king, Beowulf, has been slain. He gave his life to recover the treasure which the dragon guarded for us. Once our enemies discover that our king is dead, we can expect war. The Franks and Swedes have been victimized by us in the past and will not be so quick to forget. They were peaceful with us this long because of respect or fear for Beowulf. We have this protection no more.” Some panicked murmuring passed through the crowd, then I continued:
“But all of this is in the future and nothing can be done now. Now we must focus on our king. He must be cremated immediately. It was his last wish that this hall become a memorial to him, and so it will be. None will benefit from the gold bought with his life. It will stay in this hall as tribute to Beowulf. This we owe him. Let us begin!” And with that, Geats prepared to say goodbye to their beloved Beowulf.
First, they fed the dragon’s bloody corpse to the hungry sea. Then they gathered wood to build Beowulf’s death bed. I entered the hall once more and gathered some of the treasure to be burned with Beowulf’s body. When I exited, I saw that the bed had been built and that the thanes were carrying Beowulf’s body to it and gently placing him on top of it.
I sprinkled the treasure over Beowulf’s body and took a torch which had been lit. Then, I lit the bed on fire and watched as it began to burn.
My mother joined me next to the fire and as she watched, she began to weep, her long gray hair pinned tightly to her head and her old face wet with tears.
As I watched, I realized that one day it would be me who was being burned and mourned. I would soon be king, but I would not live forever. I would rule as well as I could and use everything that Beowulf had taught me about being a good leader. When I died I wanted to be as mourned as he was, but my death was a long way away and I wouldn’t dwell on it. I would spend every moment leading up to my end remembering a great man.
Thane Names and Meanings